Blog: Staff Reflections
February 7, 2017
Evan Mawarire, of the #ThisFlag Movement, Should Be Immediately Released by the Government of Zimbabwe
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Update: Thankfully, since this post was published, Evan Mawarire has been released.
Back in November, I was pleased to moderate a conversation with pastor Evan Mawarire, the leader of the #ThisFlag movement, which in 2016 channeled citizens’ frustrations into large-scale protests against corruption, human rights abuse, and economic decline in Zimbabwe. It was therefore deeply distressing to learn that he was arrested last Wednesday at Harare International Airport when he returned to the country. He continues to be held at Harare Central Police Station.
Mawarire was initially charged with subverting a constitutionally-elected government and was expected to appear in court for a hearing and the opportunity to make bail. However, additional charges of insulting the Zimbabwean flag and inciting violence were added in an apparent attempt to prolong his detention and suppress his cause. He is expected back in court on February 17. If the case proceeds to trial he could face 20 years in prison.
Mawarire was previously arrested for treason last July. After thousands protested outside the courthouse, the charges were dismissed and he was released. He left soon after for South Africa and, subsequently, the United States, fearing for his safety.
Zimbabwe’s criminal justice system should not be used to intimidate citizens who speak out against abuse or target activists who organize peaceful resistance. Mawarire should be released and the charges against him dropped.
February 6, 2017
Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, Former Senior Clinical Instructor, Becomes Scholar in Residence at NYU Law
Posted by Cara Solomon
As the spring semester gets underway at HRP, we’re already missing the fellowship and expertise of one of our colleagues: Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, JD ’08, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is now a Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law.
Simply put, this is a big loss for us. Fernando is an expert on criminal justice in Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst records on mass incarceration. His clinical work went wide and deep; his teams used strategies ranging from litigation to fact-finding to negotiating with government officials to launching media campaigns.
Beyond the rigor and innovation that was the hallmark of Fernando’s work, there was another distinguishing factor: it was always collaborative. Throughout his seven years at the Clinic, he worked closely with local partners whom he considered not just colleagues but mentors: Justiça Global, Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões, Pastoral Carcerária, and Comissão Justiça e Paz. He also nurtured relationships with prisoners’ families, corrections officials, and members of the media.
Most importantly, as described in the Harvard Law Bulletin last year, Fernando treated people who were incarcerated the way he treated everyone else: with kindness.
At NYU, Fernando will explore the link between state violence and corruption, a link he first documented with Justiça Global in the high-profile, book-length report, “São Paulo under Extortion: Corruption, Organized Crime, and Institutional Violence in May 2006.” That joint report, the culmination of a five-year investigation, explored the role of corruption in a series of coordinated uprisings in detention centers and attacks on police and public buildings that left 43 state officials and hundreds of civilians dead. The report also documented the wave of reprisal attacks by police, including extrajudicial killings of people they suspected of having arrest records—in many cases profiling victims’ youth, skin color, tattoos and presence on the streets of a poor neighborhood at night.
During his time in the Clinic, Fernando tackled a range of criminal justice issues in Brazil. His clinical team contributed comparative and international law research to a workshop that culminated with federal prosecutors filing the first-ever criminal charges for dictatorship-era human rights crimes. A case he argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court) led to an investigation into juvenile justice system abuses, one which ultimately brought down an alleged corruption ring at the highest levels of state government.
He spent the great majority of his time, though, addressing rampant over-incarceration and abuse in prisons. Continue Reading…
December 21, 2016
Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado
Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques “Over-Incarceration” and Prison Building in Brazil
Landmark Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex Rulings Also Innovate on Rights of LGBT Prisoners; Prisoners with Disabilities; and Anti-Corruption Measures
Sounding the alarm on mass incarceration, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently ordered officials in Brazil to adopt an emergency plan to reduce overcrowding at the abusive Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco. Noting that it “shared the concern expressed by several Brazilian authorities…with respect to the tendency toward ‘over-incarceration’ [‘super encarceramento’] witnessed over the past decade throughout the country, and with particular intensity in Pernambuco,” the Court also demanded other measures that can promote decarceration. These include the hiring of public defenders and the listing of the legal grounds for the detention of each prisoner at the Complex.
Currently, the Complex holds some 7,000 men in space designated for less than 2,000. The Court gave the state 90 days to comply, with Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office (Ministério Público Federal – MPF) tapped to monitor implementation.
The ruling marks a major advance for the civil society petitioning coalition comprised of the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, Pastoral Carcerária, Justiça Global, and the International Human Rights Clinic. For years, the coalition has urged authorities to redress overcrowding through decarceration measures. Brazil today has the world’s fourth largest prison population, with over 600,000 detained. In its resolution, the Court warned that “until the tendency [toward over-incarceration] is reversed,” state policies promoting prison construction “will not be sufficient” to deal with the problem.
There is growing recognition in Brazil that its turn toward mass incarceration is unwise and unsustainable. Earlier this year the head of Brazil’s federal penitentiary department (Departamento Penitenciário Federal – DEPEN) declared, “incarceration does not reduce criminality.” Over the past 25 years, the country has seen a 575 percent increase in the prison population.
The Court’s decision also innovated on other legal issues. Pointing to a wave of sexual violence and other abuses against LGBT persons at the prison Complex, the Court ordered the state to “adopt specific measures to protect the personal integrity and life of groups in situations of vulnerability.” Other novel points of the decision include measures protecting the rights of prisoners with disabilities and a demand for evidence demonstrating the existence of judicial oversight of the prison. Continue Reading…
December 15, 2016
Posted by Emily Nagisa Keehn, Anna Crowe and Yee Htun
It is now well trodden discourse that the election of Donald Trump, like the rise in nationalist movements in Europe, is both creating and reflecting paradigmatic shifts in the way we view global institutions. These shifts point to pressing concerns for the international human rights project. The xenophobic, rights-abusive platform of the Trump campaign put the human rights community on notice, and we have assumed a defensive stance to protect the potential roll-back of hard-won progress. In the era of Trump, we believe the U.S. human rights community must continue to draw on international human rights law as an advocacy and accountability tool, partnering with international movements and actors to stop rhetoric from becoming reality.
For U.S. scholars, lawyers, policymakers and activists committed to the defense of human rights, the rhetoric and fledgling policies of the incoming administration have raised strategic and existential questions. In this new era, we are examining and debating critical concerns about the state and utility of international human rights law, and questioning where to place our resources. For those of us working within law schools, we face added questions from students, some of whom feel a crisis of conscience about where best to stake their social justice careers. From our perspective we must continue to invest in international human rights.
To begin with, we must dispel with the false dichotomy that pits domestic rights against the international human rights regime. International human rights norms are implemented by domestic actors and often embedded in national constitutions. And human rights abuses are not a phenomenon that ‘happens’ abroad, violating the rights of ‘others’ who are unconnected to us. The systemic interlinkages in our globalized world make us common rights-holders, in issues spanning trade and the environment, to counter terrorism. The international system exists as a failsafe for local and domestic efforts. No domestic space is a paradigm of human rights virtue and we all benefit from the scrutiny of global institutions.
Granted, international human rights law has limited power in U.S. courts, but it is not impotent. We have seen its persuasive function in important Supreme Court Cases such as Lawrence v Texas, which struck down the sodomy law in Texas, and Roper v Simmons, which abolished capital punishment for people under 18. There is further work to do in pushing back against American exceptionalism by both diffusing international norms, and keeping human rights language and knowledge alive, in the U.S. legal community and judiciary – if anything, U.S. human rights activists have perhaps prematurely given up on the project of making international human rights law enforceable in U.S. courts.
History shows that human rights violations carry reputational risks, and have tangible costs for national security and the U.S.’s geopolitical position. For instance, the Bush-era war on terror and the torture memos made the U.S. an outlier to established international law, damaged its moral authority, and fanned the flames of conflict.
During this period of what may be a redux in U.S. human rights ‘deviance’, we must fight to limit damage to the integrity of human rights norms. This requires our continued engagement with global institutions mandated with international human rights law protection, to prevent and seek accountability for any new violations, and to protect against the dismantling of important gains. This could include backslides in progress under international U.S. leadership in the areas of LGBTQI rights, women’s health and reproductive rights, and a strengthened UN Human Rights Council. Protecting gains also means safeguarding against cuts in U.S. government support for human rights defenders around the world who are working with vulnerable people in hostile environments.
Finally, we must demonstrate heterogeneity and dissent in U.S. voices in international settings, and avoid brain drain and the deskilling of the U.S. human rights community. For humanistic and principled reasons, concern for human rights should not follow national borders or be driven by nationalist impulses. This cuts to the core of our group identity as a human rights constituency, committed to the foundational principles of universal application of human rights for all.
Today’s shifting ground and the risks of a regressive trajectory present an opportunity to re-double efforts and promote the resonance of international norms domestically. Now, more than ever, work needs to be done to bring the U.S. into a larger comparative framework. Human rights actors are needed in both domestic and international institutions to serve as critical, reinforcing bridges between these two arenas.
October 25, 2016
We’re very pleased to cross-post this piece by Emily Nagisa Keehne, Associate Director of HRP’s Academic Program, who argues in The Guardian that it’s vital the court of appeals uphold a ruling that makes South Africa’s gold mining industry accountable to women whose husbands died from silicosis. Emily co-authored the piece with her former colleague, Dean Peacock, Executive Director of Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa.
“Justice is long overdue for the widows of South African mineworkers”
For decades, women in rural South Africa have shouldered the burden of caring for mineworkers who return home with silicosis contracted in South Africa’s gold mines. These women do the back-breaking and emotionally taxing work of caring for men who are dying slow and painful deaths, their lungs irreparably scarred by the silica dust they breathe in underground.
Testimony from women in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province reveals the brutal toll silicosis has taken on families. “My husband was the sole breadwinner,” recalled one woman. “If we had money, he had sent it. During his last days, he lost his strength and his chest closed up. It was difficult for him to cover himself with blankets, so I would cover him up. He could not go outside to relieve himself, so he would do it right there in the bed. I would have to throw it away. On his last day his chest closed up completely. I am left with almost nothing.”
From village to village, such stories were a recurring refrain. “I used to carry [my husband] around,” said another woman. “I used to go from house to house asking for food, we had children going to school. At times I would get piece jobs so we could eat.”
Eventually, this woman’s husband became unable to breathe. He died before he could even get in a car to go to hospital.
These conditions are the predictable outcome of deliberate mining policies.
Starting in the 1880s, when gold was first discovered, gold mining houses colluded with British colonial governments to put in place a range of taxes and legislation that forced black men to leave their land to work in the mines.
Once there, these men were forced to do dangerous jobs. Their work exposed them to malnutrition, tuberculosis and dangerous levels of silica dust. Many developed silicosis, which scars the lungs, makes breathing difficult, increases vulnerability to tuberculosis and can ultimately cause asphyxiation.
Black women, on the other hand, were required to remain in rural areas, where they carried out the work of raising workers and, often, caring for them when they later returned home desperately ill.
This exploitation remained entrenched for most of the 20th century. The mining industry corrupted the medical examination boards ostensibly in charge of mineworkers’ health. The boards then underreported cases of silicosis, decreasing workers’ eligibility for compensation. Together with the apartheid government, the industry set up a distinct and difficult to use compensation scheme. One study by Deloitte found that less than 1.5% of claims had been paid out to eligible miners.
The consequences of this arrangement were predictable. A 2009 report revealed that almost all miners interviewed in the former republic of Transkei, the largest provider of mining labour, had symptoms of respiratory illness. None were formally employed. About 92% said they went without food or experienced hunger on a monthly basis.
South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution has allowed human rights lawyers and mineworkers to begin to hold mines accountable.
In 2011, South Africa’s constitutional court issued a landmark ruling allowing Thembekile Mankayi, who had contracted silicosis working underground, to sue AngloGold Ashanti for full loss of wages, damages and medical expenses, regardless of what was already available to him under the miner-specific compensation scheme.
Human rights lawyers subsequently petitioned the courts to allow a class action lawsuit; potentially, hundreds of thousands of miners would join together to sue for as much as 20-40bn rand (roughly £1.2bn-£2.3bn).
Two South African NGOs – the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an Aids activist group, and Sonke Gender Justice, a gender equality organisation – applied to join the case as amici curiae (impartial advisers to the court), introducing evidence on the social costs of silicosis.
TAC drew attention to the relationship between silicosis and TB. Sonke offered evidence on the gendered impact of silicosis, particularly the financial, emotional and physical burden borne by women and girls who care for sick mineworkers when they return home, often foregoing their own income and education. The amici argued for the authorisation of the class action, and the transmission of claims to widows and dependents.
Despite opposition by the mining houses, the court admitted them as amici. Sonke’s affidavit on the gendered impact of silicosis was also admitted into the proceedings.
In May this year, the Johannesburg high court granted its historic ruling. It amended existing common law to allow general damages to be transmitted to the widows and dependents of miners who died in the early stages of litigation. Prior to this ruling, if plaintiffs died before pleadings had closed their claims would become void.
The ruling sets an important precedent that affirms women’s rights and the imperative to remedy the gendered harms imposed by the mining industry. The mining companies are appealing the decision, however.
As the case unfolds, it is critical to remember what is at stake. A century of damage caused by the South African gold mining industry requires remedy. The mining companies must pay long overdue compensation to the workers, widows, children, and communities they impoverished.
June 20, 2016
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
This piece originally appeared in The Conversation on June 16, 2016
New technology could lead humans to relinquish control over decisions to use lethal force. As artificial intelligence advances, the possibility that machines could independently select and fire on targets is fast approaching. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are quickly moving from the realm of science fiction toward reality.
These weapons, which could operate on land, in the air or at sea, threaten to revolutionize armed conflict and law enforcement in alarming ways. Proponents say these killer robots are necessary because modern combat moves so quickly, and because having robots do the fighting would keep soldiers and police officers out of harm’s way. But the threats to humanity would outweigh any military or law enforcement benefits.
Removing humans from the targeting decision would create a dangerous world. Machines would make life-and-death determinations outside of human control. The risk of disproportionate harm or erroneous targeting of civilians would increase. No person could be held responsible. Continue Reading…
May 27, 2016
Dear Class of 2016,
First of all: CONGRATULATIONS! YOU MADE IT!
Secondly, we want to send a special congratulations to Katie King, whose tireless work with our partners in South Africa on the right to education earned her the William J. Stuntz Memorial Award for Justice, Human Dignity and Compassion. And to the many clinical students who gave more than 1,000 hours of pro bono work during their time at HLS: Chike Achebe, Keaton Allen-Gessesse, Lauren Blodgett, Daniel Carpenter-Gold, Mira Chernick, Carson Cook, Rebecca Donaldson, Michelle Ha, Anna E. Joseph, Brian Closterboer, Liz Loftus, Lindsay Mullett, Courtney D. Paterson, Brittany Reid, Ariel Simms, Peter Stavros, Matt Thiman, Jillian Wagman, Noorulain Zafar, and Ye H. Zhang.
Lastly, if we missed you at yesterday’s commencement party, here’s what we would have told you: Thank you. Continue Reading…
May 25, 2016
Today at Class Day, we had the great honor of watching our colleague Gabriela Gonzalez Follett rise before the Class of 2016 and accept the Suzanne Richardson Staff Appreciation Award. It was a beautiful sight to see, second only to the sound of her voice as she gave a speech that moved many in the audience to tears.
The Suzanne Richardson Staff Award is given each year to a member of the staff who demonstrates commitment to the student experience and concern for students’ lives and work at the Law School. The Class of 2016 selected Gabriela (Gabbie) as the recipient of this year’s award for her work “around the clock to make sure that students are having an optimally enriching educational experience at HLS.” Continue Reading…
May 12, 2016
Posted by Bonnie Docherty
Today, we in the International Human Rights Clinic are excited to announce that Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, has been promoted to clinical instructor at Harvard Law School.
I first met Anna when she was an LLM student in my disarmament seminar and a member of my cluster munition clinical team. I knew right away she was someone special. She stood out from her peers, impressing me with both her intellect and her character. Four and a half years later, she continues to impress me on a daily basis.
Since Anna returned to the Clinic as a fellow in 2014, she has demonstrated a gift for teaching and a commitment to promoting human rights and international humanitarian law. She has trained clinical students in the skills of our field, earning their respect and inspiring them to perform at the highest levels. She has published multiple reports in the areas of disarmament, privacy, and refugees, all of which have had real advocacy impact. Outside of the Clinic, she has mentored members of HLS Advocates and collaborated with some of our visiting fellows.
Anna has also been a great friend and colleague to me and the rest of the Clinic.
I could go on and on about all that Anna has brought to our community, but suffice it to say, the Human Rights Program is thrilled that she will be around for the coming years.
February 17, 2016
Posted by Susan Farbstein
Last week in South Africa, there was an important—and surprising—development related to the 1983 torture and murder of Nokuthula Simelane. I previously wrote about the case as an egregious example of the lack of accountability for apartheid-era crimes, as well as the apparent political obstruction that effectively blocked the investigation and prosecution of nearly 300 post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) cases.
But perhaps the tide is turning. On February 8th, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced that it will charge four former apartheid security policemen with Simelane’s kidnapping and murder. This represents the first prosecution of apartheid-era perpetrators since a 2007 plea agreement with five senior police officers, among them Adriaan Vlock, who served as Minister of Law and Order.
Former TRC Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the breakthrough as a “most significant and historic decision,” but also questioned why the NPA delayed for decades and proceeded only after Simelane’s family launched a High Court case to compel the NPA into action. The NPA has said that it is moving ahead now because of the strength of the evidence and merits of the case, which create reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution.
The four former members of the Soweto Special Branch—Willem Helm Johannes Coetzee, Anton Pretorius, Frederick Barnard Mong, and Msebenzi Radebe—are due to appear in court on February 26th. Although three of the accused applied to and received amnesty from the TRC for Simelane’s abduction, none applied for her murder. Because of this failure to make a full disclosure, the case was referred to the NPA and now appears set to proceed.